Tornado touches down in Chelsea

Published 10:45 am Friday, February 27, 2009

A tornado touched down on Highway 280 in Chelsea at 10:14 a.m. near a BP service station.

Chelsea Mayor Earl Niven said there wasn’t any structural damage to the gas station as far as he knew, but some service station signs and flagpoles were down. The sign for a nearby M&F Bank had also been damaged, he said.

Westover citizen John Norman was filling his car up with gas at the BP station when the tornado hit.

Norman, who got in his car, said the power went out and the rain got heavy right before the tornado. He watched the tornado, which was about 100 yards away from him and was approximately 15-20 feet in diameter, crash into the sign at the BP station.

Norman said the tornado was on the ground for 30 seconds at the most. Through it all, the weather sirens never went off, he said.

“It was something else to see. There was dust flying everywhere,” he said. “I’m very grateful that no one got hurt seriously.”

Connie Pilkington, the cashier at the BP station, said that as a customer pulled into the gas station, the force of the tornado blew out his windows. He suffered minor cuts and bruises, and Pilkington helped clean him up.

“How scary was it? On a scale of one to 10, a 20,” she said. “It was amazing. I honestly have some guardian angel.”

According to the National Weather Service in Birmingham, a tornado warning has been issued for east central Shelby County, including the cities of Chelsea, Harpersville and Wilsonville.

Michael Garrison of the National Weather Service said the tornado was classified as an EF-0, or a weak tornado. Its highest speed would have been between 65-85 miles per hour, he said.

Old Highway 280 between County Road 11 and Lewis Road remains closed due to overhanging trees, according to the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. Alabama Power is working to remove the trees, and drivers in the area are encouraged to choose an alternate route.